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Was J R Ackerley gay?


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J R Ackerley was a former PoW though as he himself says, he had no thoughts of escaping. Apart from Editing Escapers All, his first written work was a play called "The Prisoners of War". Set in Murren, Switzerland, the play is overtly "gay" and is often referred to as a Gay play. The play is quite well known and was performed on TV many years ago (I regret that at the time I refused to watch it on principle!). His most famous work is "My Father and I" which I have not read. I have also not read his biography. So, can anyone tell me whether or not he was gay?

Doug

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Nigel Marshall

Hi Doug,

Wikipedia has a fairly lengthy and detailed biography of Ackerley, and it does from first reading look as if he was gay, openly gay, something very risky in those days. You should exercise your own caution, as some of the references are cited, some are not.

See for yourself J R Ackerley in Wikipedia.

I decided it best not to copy and paste any excerpts - I'm keen to keep my membership of this forum!

Cheers,

Nigel

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As a nine bob note - and totally unapologetic about it. He also had a very, very strange relationship with his alsation (called Queenie) about whom he wrote a book, and about whose death he grieved unconsoulably. Ackerly features in a number of books about the pre WW2 period, including one by a serving Hammmersmith policeman, who was of the same persuasion and mixed in gay literary circles with the likes of E M Forster. No questions please about why I know!More to the point Ackerly was a highly respected figure (again from memory) literary editor of the Listener and considered highly influential. He lived in Castelnau, Hammersmith.

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Pals,

Thanks for the references which I have now read. In terms of his PoW experience the Wikipedia article is weak and a bit misleading as it would seem to infer he was sent straight to Switzerland! There is a reference in WO161 that confirms he provided a report of his time as a prisoner but it was not printed. I have checked the FO383 index but it is not listed (which does not necessarily mean it is not there). That report would probably be historically significant. From the articles it would appear that he was a closet homosexual whilst a PoW and only came out later. The article indicates that this may have been after his parents deaths, however his mother died in 1946 and his father in 1929 which was after the publication and promotion of his play so they must have been aware as must other people who knew him. My guess is that he was not keeping it a secret (as opposed to actively promoting it) from perhaps as early as 1919.

Homosexual references relating to PoWs are obviously rare and the only other I have encountered is George Connes statement that if homosexual relationships did occur, he never saw any.

Doug

NB the Wiki article states that he was a captain from 1916, however, the NA information suggests he was a 2/Lt at the time he gave the report, presumably in Switzerland. Could his promotion be as acting or temporary captain?.

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You need to find a copy of his posthumously published autobiography, "My father and myself", in which J.R. Ackerley writes a candid account of his life.

There is also a very interesting account of his time with the 8th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment and their involvement in the battle of the Somme. J.R. Ackerley also makes some scathing remarks about his fellow officers, including "Billie" Neville who he describes as a "Buffoon".

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J R Ackerley comment in his autobiography on Nevill being 'the battalion buffoon' is mentioned on page 210 of Billie: The Nevill Letters; but then goes on to say, that through the letters and Ackerley's own letter of condolence, there is the impression of friendship. Also there are more pictures of Ackerley, than any other officer, amongst Nevill's photographs.

Bootneck

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The quote from My father and myself reads,

"Many of the officers in my battalion were struck down the moment they emerged into view. My company commander was shot through the the heart before he had advanced a step, Neville, the battalion buffoon, who had a football for his men to dribble over to the "flattened and deserted" German lines and was then going to finish off any 'gibbering imbecile' he might meet with the shock of his famous grin (he had loose dentures and could make a skull like grimace when he smiled), was also instantly killed, and so was fat Bobby Soames, my best friend. I had spent the previous evening with him and he said to me quietly, without emotion, 'I'm going to be killed tomorrow. I don't know how I know it but I do.'

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High Wood

Many thanks for the full quote. I am assuming from it that Ackerley meant Nevill was the battalion 'joker' or was he more scathing in other parts of his autobiography.

I am only wondering as the peice from the Nevill Letters was brought to my attention by a mate who is interested in Nevill and the 'football' charge.

Apologies for taking the thread off tangent.

Regards

Bootneck

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J R Ackerley was a former PoW though as he himself says, he had no thoughts of escaping. Apart from Editing Escapers All, his first written work was a play called "The Prisoners of War". Set in Murren, Switzerland, the play is overtly "gay" and is often referred to as a Gay play. The play is quite well known and was performed on TV many years ago (I regret that at the time I refused to watch it on principle!). His most famous work is "My Father and I" which I have not read. I have also not read his biography. So, can anyone tell me whether or not he was gay?

Doug

As to being "Gay" I do not know if he was happy, cheerful, or not. But yes he was "Homosexual".

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and so was fat Bobby Soames, my best friend. I had spent the previous evening with him and he said to me quietly, without emotion, 'I'm going to be killed tomorrow. I don't know how I know it but I do.'

This is a kind of quote one comes across not infrequently and usually ends with the premonition being true. I wonder if this indicates that men really did sometimes know in advance of their death or is it just that we don`t hear of the premonitions that turned out to be false?

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